Back in the early aughts, polarizing musician Dave Matthews spent some time in Oklahoma filming this cinematic take on the famed novel Where the Red Fern Grows. While I was aware of the original version, I had no idea this one ever existed, despite a distribution deal with Walt Disney that should have blanketed it everywhere.
Regardless, the overabundance of Matthews made me enter into this as more of a tepid joke than an actual film, which, admittedly, was an absolute mistake on my part. Despite its various problems, Where the Red Fern Grows is a remarkably sweet tribute to the ultimate proof of God’s love: dogs, dogs, and more dogs.
Here, it’s Old Dan and Little Ann, two lovable hounds that are ordered by young Billy (Joseph Ashton) out of the back of a catalog. Living on a Depression Era farm in Oklahoma, as the family is hurting for money, Billy trains the dogs to hunt raccoons for their skins, which I assume was the old-timey equivalent of selling copies of Grit. Kids still sell that door-to-door, right?
Luckily, Old Dan and Little Ann are two of the best dogs anyone has ever seen, so Billy enters them in a raccoon hunt which they technically lose because they’re saving the life of his grandfather…is there anything these dogs can’t do? I love them so much!
Of course, instead of traveling with the family to Tulsa like they should have, both dogs (spoiler alert) die in the most heartbreaking of ways: one in a mountain lion attack – imagine how much fun the local media would have had with that one – and, a few days later, the other of a broken heart. As that happened, I was a sobbing mass of fetid tears on the floor, holding my own pup close as he stared at the screen in canine disbelief.
I know that I can say controversial things here, but this might be the most controversial thing I’ve ever said: fuck mountain lions!
Flatly filmed in the beautiful backwoods of Tahlequah, Wagoner, and Cookson Hills, the film actually does have a well-cast bit of support players that includes Mac Davis, Ned Beatty, Kris Kristofferson and, in an absolute surprise to me, Dabney Coleman as a grandpa that I can firmly believe in. Heck, Matthews really isn’t all that bad either. Only you could do that, Where the Red Fern Grows!